All of us hit walls in life and faith. Some of us are hitting one right now during this crisis, some of us aren’t, but we will. God allows us to hit the wall not to block us. He wants us to climb over it so that we experience a resurrection. I’m sorry to say that most people and Catholics don’t make it: They will hit the wall, go through a crisis, turn away from it, and merely survive. And it’s because they can’t understand the suffering.
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s his homily here.]
Here are three truths from the Gospel that will help us climb over:
1) Jesus’ “disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (Jn 9:1-3). When we hit a wall, it’s not necessarily because we’ve sinned and certainly not because God doesn’t love us. Most people don’t get this: They think, when something goes wrong in their life, that it can’t be part of God’s plan, something’s wrong with His plan—that’s not necessarily true. So, they think they have to get away from the suffering, because this isn’t the way to grow—no. This wall isn’t designed to stop you from moving forward; it’s designed to help you climb higher. The first truth is that suffering is part of the plan of God and He does it because He loves us.
God is a good father. When he has a newborn child, he gives the child pablum, in order to get the child to eat. But soon he takes it away and starts giving solid food, which doesn’t taste as good. The child can either accept or refuse it. If he refuses, the child will never grow.
The key that helped me get through an experience of death in my life and still helps me today was that God still loved me, and that I knew it was part of the plan. If you know that God loves you when you’re in pain and is allowing it for your good, you’ll make it! I want this for all of you.
2) There’s a second truth in Jesus’ words: the man “was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Jesus heals the man born blind but God’s works aren’t simply about giving physical sight; they’re about giving spiritual sight (Daniel Mueggenborg, Come Follow Me, Year A, 68-69). Whenever we’re suffering, God’s trying to give us spiritual insight.
Imagine there’s a man whose relationship with his children is terrible. He hurt them when they were young by emotional abuse, rarely being affectionate, and never apologizing. When the children grew up, they hated him. Then he gets terminal cancer. Now, which would be the greater healing: healing the cancer or healing their relationship? If knowing that their father was going to die was the only way to get him and his children to talk, forgive, and make peace, then the cancer would be an occasion of spiritual insight.
When we hit a wall, it usually reveals that something’s wrong here (the heart), at the level of the spirit: We don’t love enough, we lack humility, courage, patience, etc. This past week, a lot of us have been having spiritual insight: There’s so much love flowing right now, people saying, “I love you,” people realizing how much they need the Mass, how precious the Eucharist is, how blessed we are to live in a country where we have the freedom to worship, freedom to get health care, etc. God’s works are being revealed in us.
3) Suffering caused the blind man to recognize progressively Jesus’ true identity and worship Him (Francis Martin & William Wright, The Gospel of John, in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 183). He called Jesus a ‘man,’ then ‘prophet,’ then ‘from God,’ then ‘Lord’ and, at the end, worships Him. The recognition comes through the pressure put on the man by the Pharisees; during his interrogation, he realizes Who Jesus is. In the same way, suffering will eliminate our previously held notions about what’s important in life.
No one ever asks why God allows suffering when they get a bruise on their arm—why? Because it doesn’t call into question what’s most important to them. Notice when we all start questioning why suffering is allowed: There’s a threshold when we start to question, and that’s when what we worship is taken away from us. When someone’s whole identity is based on their attempt to get into medical school, then, as soon as they fail, they start questioning why suffering exists.
So, suffering reveals what we worship. If our relatively easy life has been taken away from us, and now we question God, it’s because we worship having a relatively easy life. But it’s designed to push us to something better: Jesus. Suffering strips away things that don’t last, and so we’re forced to look for that which lasts, and that’s Jesus.
This is not easy. When we climb over the wall, it hurts, because we’re letting go of: 1) the idea of our plan for our lives; 2) we’re letting go of our sole focus on the physical, and opening ourselves up to the spiritual; 3) we’re letting go of what we worship.
A number of us are getting these three truths. I know, because some have told me how you’ve chosen to love when it was hard; you did the right thing when you felt nothing. There’s so much freedom and release when we do this! Don’t run away from the wall or keep hitting it; climb over it.